For a couple of months controversy has been stirring over a proposed housing development just west of campus in the Village of Shorewood Hills. Shorewood Hills is a community of approximately 630 mostly single-family homes that border the west shore of Lake Mendota. It's no secret in Madison that Shorewood Hills is full of wealthy liberals, whose homes lie on perfectly manicured lawns along streets named after Ivy League institutions.
The affluent community made front-page news back in December when the Village's Board received a request for rezoning made by the Illinois-based Andover Hill Investments, who has proposed building a 69-unit ""lower income"" apartment complex in the neighborhood at 4610 University Ave. across from Hilldale Mall. The one-to-three bedroom apartments would range in price from $635-$1,050 per month and, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, developer David Bornstein said renters would be ""moderate-income"" renters such as teachers and employees of nearby retail outlets, hospitals and government offices. The rezoning request was approved by Shorewood's Village Plan Commission and the Village Board is expected to vote on the proposal tonight.
Even if the proposal passes, the whole affair has shed a bright and unflattering light on Shorewood Hills. Since the controversy began, many in Madison have questioned the supposedly progressive attitudes that the community boasts. At a Village Board meeting back in December, residents raised concerns and objections to the housing development, many of which gained a lot of attention. Among the more infamous was a comment made by Tim Rikkers, a Village Board member, who said the housing project would ""increase the voting rolls by 20 percent with people who have different values ––I'm not saying bad values––but different values from what we have here."" And then there was Santhia Brandt, a Shorewood resident, who was ""concerned the development would lead to more regulation of rental properties, making it harder for families who rent out their homes when they travel abroad.""
In an incensed letter to the Isthmus' ""Tell All"" two weeks ago, a reader accused Shorewood residents of hypocrisy and elitism saying, ""The liberals [in Shorewood Hills] are officially concerned about low-income people, but not enough to let them into the neighborhood."" Even the State Journal wrote, ""one of Dane County's wealthiest enclaves faces a tough test of its liberal ideals"" in a Dec. 17 article that explained the housing proposal, rezoning request and local objections to the project. It's no secret that Shorewood Hills' residents are elitists whose concerns include keeping out residents with differing opinions or socio-economic backgrounds.
It's difficult to understand the objections made against Bornstein's vision of a housing complex that will cater to young professionals, teachers and hospital employees, many of whom work alongside Shorewood residents everyday. Apparently the Village's doctors and professors are fine with breathing the same air as nurses and graduate students at work, but find the idea of sharing their streets with them unacceptable.
This kind of elitist attitude, while deplorable, really isn't all that surprising. For as long as humans have been living together they have tried to control and limit access to their communities. During the Middle Ages, European towns were surrounded by walls and access was granted by a single door at the discretion of town leaders. As recently as 2000 in Texas, the wealthy Dallas community called Preston Hallow (which would become the future home of George W. Bush) allowed only white people to live in the neighborhood. For as long as the rich and powerful have been rich and powerful, they have been trying to surround themselves with like-minded and similarly affluent people. And who can blame them? It must be difficult to be wealthy and encounter those less fortunate.
Surely not all Shorewood residents oppose the proposed apartment complex. And certainly there are Village residents embarrassed by their neighbors' selfish and hypocritical behavior. But why anyone would want to call an elitist and hypocritical ivory tower home is beyond comprehension. If Shorewood residents don't want ""moderate-income"" residents sullying their homes, then I suggest they build their own self-sufficient community comprised solely of rich liberals. Then they will never have to encounter someone who doesn't resemble them, everyone would think the same and there would be no disagreements. Where they will find anyone to teach their children, mow their lawns or replace their furnaces is yet to be seen, but I'm sure they will be able to figure it out. After all, they are all highly educated individuals, and don't they know it.
Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in English and French. Please send all responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.